Aah, the luxuries of home. I spent my long weekend on an island in the middle of Saranac Lake, N.Y. and while I love camping and wish I could do more of it, I must say, it's always nice to come home to electricity and running water. But, of course, back to the grind and while doing a little housekeeping this morning and rummaging through the old inbox, I came across this DHS press release about the department reaching its third milestone for the efficiency review that Napolitano ordered in March. Coincidentally, during my mini-vacation I had a chance to catch up on some reading (thanks to an afternoon of thunderstorms) and one of the articles I read was the 'Ideas Issue' of the Atlantic Monthly.
One of the ideas was to "civilize" DHS. In the article, James Fallows argues that the department should not exist and that it was only formed so the administration could appear to be responding to 9/11.
Since then, it has failed basic tests of bureaucratic effectiveness. One of the supposed benefits of amalgamation was to remove wasteful overlap so America could spend more money where it mattered and cut back everywhere else. In fact, as Cindy Williams of MIT has demonstrated, the shares of the DHS budget now devoted to the department’s individual parts—the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, etc.—are the same as they were when they were first lumped together.
However, he argues, disposing of the department at this point might actually be more disruptive than just moving it forward. I would say it's safe to say DHS is here to stay, but I think these recent initiatives to make the department more efficient are a testament to the rushed nature of the formation of the department. The DHS press release cites fairly common sense changes that, frankly, any private organization would have put in place long ago. For example, the release cites replacing office equipment and moving from separate phones, fax machines, copiers and scanners to all-in-one machines. Also, streamlining the external correspondence process and using DHS-wide purchase agreements for office supplies is cited as an example of improved efficiency.
The release also notes significant cost savings in various agencies under the DHS umbrella. For example, the Coast Guard plans to restructure maintenance for 1,800 boats, convert lights for buoys, and reduce maintenance and decreasing power consumption; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will utilize government vehicles instead of private rentals and eliminate subscriptions to publications available on-line; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will replace a management training that previously used private facilities with teleconferences, utilize filing systems and computer equipment from DHS’ excess property inventory rather than purchasing new products; and the Transportation Security Administration will recycle underutilized software applications.
Of course, I applaud all these separate agencies for finding ways to be more efficient, but I also think that Fallows has a point when questioning whether the department has really moved security forward. Thoughts?